SPRINGVALE — Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief Ricky Plummer admitted to fire investigators that he started the April 15 blaze that burned 42 acres of marshland in the town, but denied doing so intentionally, saying he discarded a cigarette butt in dry, chest-high marsh grass, according to documents filed in Springvale District Court.

But fire investigators found no evidence of a discarded cigarette or smoking materials in the area where the wildfire began, and no one close to Plummer could confirm ever seeing him smoke before – he even told investigators that he doesn’t like smoking, doesn’t like the taste and does not inhale.

“I know better to even be out there with a cigarette,” he told them in an interview last Friday, the affidavit said.

Details of the allegations against Plummer, a longtime fire official and well-known community member in Biddeford, came from a nine-page affidavit filed in Springvale District Court in support of the arson charge. Plummer made his appearance in court Monday via a video link from jail, but did not enter a plea because the felony charge has not yet been presented to a grand jury for possible indictment.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office is now reviewing old cases in the towns where Plummer previously worked to determine whether he may have a connection to any of them.

“As far as our agency here is concerned, we’re doing the prudent assessment of fire activity in locations where he may have been involved,” said state Fire Marshal Joe Thomas. “But that’s not unusual in this particular case.”


Asked whether investigators believe Plummer has connections to other fires, Thomas wouldn’t say.

“We have no idea,” he said. “There’s a lot of work yet still to be done.”

One unsolved fire that has drawn attention is an arson on Jan. 20, 2015, that destroyed the vacant 36-room Americana Motel in Old Orchard Beach, which was scheduled for demolition. No one was injured.


In court, Plummer appeared wearing an orange jail uniform and holding an orange sweatshirt as he sat beside his attorney, B.J. Broder. He spoke only to answer “yes” or “no” to questions posed to him by Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz.

Moskowitz left Plummer’s previously set bail at $10,000 cash and ordered him to stay out of Old Orchard Beach while the case is pending. The judge also ordered Plummer not to possess incendiary devices and to submit to random searches. He made bail Monday afternoon.


A dozen investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the Maine Forest Service went to Old Orchard Beach on Friday afternoon with search warrants and seized computers at the fire station and in Plummer’s town-owned car, as well as his cellphone, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The seven-alarm fire on April 15 erupted in a marsh around the Little River. As more than 100 firefighters from several fire departments worked to put out the blaze, residents of the Davenport condo complex were evacuated. Flames came within 100 feet of the buildings, but no one was injured.

The affidavit offers a glimpse into the detailed work of determining the cause of a wildfire.

Because the fire occurred on state-owned property, the Maine Forest Rangers were the primary investigative agency, working for weeks after the blaze to determine the cause. The fire was determined to have originated in the marsh behind 164 East Grand Ave., where a footpath connects to a smaller game trail leading into the marsh and the area where the fire began.

According to investigators, on the afternoon of the fire, Plummer told dispatch at 2:21 p.m. that he was headed to 221 East Grand Ave. to perform a building inspection.

But security footage recorded at the Friendship Oceanside Suites on East Grand Avenue showed Plummer’s marked fire chief vehicle parked a few minutes later behind a vacant building at 164 East Grand Ave., nearly a mile south of the address where he said he would be, and about a four-minute walk from where the fire began.


In the video footage, which was described in the affidavit but not available for public viewing, Plummer crossed the train tracks and disappeared from view for roughly 25 minutes, the period when investigators say he set the fire. During that time, Plummer even radioed back to dispatch to say his inspection was complete.

One minute after he returned to his vehicle at 2:53 p.m., someone called 911 to report the wildfire, according to the affidavit.

Investigators said that Plummer also lied about his whereabouts during the early moments of the emergency response, and withheld information from investigators.

In an interview with investigators last Friday, Plummer at first denied being involved, then changed his story. Plummer told them he had taken two cigarettes from his wife earlier that day and walked into the woods and marsh to get some peace and smoke one of the cigarettes. Plummer said his habit of smoking cigarettes would not be able to be independently verified because he had never told anyone and no one knew about it.

Plummer denied setting the fire intentionally, but said that as soon as he heard the radio call and the fire’s location, he knew he was the one who caused it.

“Fire Chief Ricky Plummer acknowledged that, although he was given several opportunities, he never told me what had happened and that he had continued to misrepresent the truth to me about his actions the day of the fire and what he had in fact been doing in the marsh,” Maine Forest Ranger Matthew G. Bennett wrote in the affidavit. Bennett also noted that in the course of his investigation, he found no cigarette butts or other smoking materials in the area where the fire started.



Plummer has been a firefighter since 1974. He has served as the fire chief in Old Orchard Beach since 2014, and has worked at several departments in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Florida during his career. He has been placed on administrative leave by Old Orchard Beach, where his annual salary is $70,500.

Plummer said little during the brief court hearing other than to answer the questions posed by the judge, whom he addressed as “sir” each time.

Broder represented Plummer for his initial appearance on the arson charge only and explained to the judge that Plummer was in the process of seeing whether he qualified for a court-appointed attorney or whether he would have to hire his own.

He is next scheduled to appear in court for a conference in the case on Sept. 8. But if he is indicted by a grand jury before then, he could be rescheduled to appear for an arraignment to enter a plea.

If convicted of arson, Plummer will face as much as 30 years in prison.


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